In 11 years as the head football coach at David W. Butler High School in Matthews, North Carolina, Brian Hales has coached and mentored scores of young men who have come through the program. Christian Dixon, the projected starting middle linebacker at Towson, still gets him misty-eyed.
“He truly wears it on his sleeve that he wants everyone around him to be great,” said Hales, who coached Dixon from 2013 to 2016. “When other guys were getting offers, the genuine enthusiasm that he had every day and the excitement that he would have for anybody else who was successful, I’m getting emotional just talking about it. God, the kid was amazing. He just brought so much energy and so much life to our program that it couldn’t help but rub off onto everyone else.”
Dixon’s personality and charisma have masked several painful chapters in his 22 years of life. When he was an infant, one older brother was struck by a car and — although he recovered — never played football again.
When Dixon was an eighth grader, he found his father dead of a heart attack the day after Thanksgiving. A little less than two years later, another older brother was shot and killed.
Despite the tragedies, Dixon has a zest for life that is rivaled by few. And he credits his late father and late brother for his outlook.
“They helped me become a better man and to just be grateful for life and thankful for life,” he said. “I was young and dumb, and now I’m more mature. So I just became more of a lovable person. I just wear my heart on my sleeve.”
Since he began playing football when he was 5 years old, Dixon lined up at running back and linebacker. But he began to gravitate toward linebacker as a full-time role because “I just want to start off hitting,” he said.
Playing linebacker was a bit of a family tradition. His father, Issac Dixon, was a linebacker and center at Division II Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, and regaled his son with stories of his playing days.
“He would say how he used to play and how he was that guy,” Christian Dixon said of his dad who was known as “Zeek.”
Issac Dixon battled diabetes, but insisted on attending every game his son played in rec football, according to Christian Dixon’s 34-year-old brother, Quartavis Springs.
“Even when he was sick, he was at every game,” said Springs, who had played football until he was 12 when he was struck by a car while crossing the street on his way to baseball practice. After waking from a coma five days after the accident, Springs recovered, but was warned by doctors to avoid participating in contact sports such as football and hockey for the rest of his life.
“His daddy was so supportive of his sports as far as working him out and stuff like that,” Springs said.
After the family celebrated Thanksgiving together on Nov. 23, 2012, Christian Dixon and his father returned to his father’s house. The next morning, Dixon discovered his father in his bed.
“I was young,” Dixon said. “So when he passed away, I had a lot of friends and family come over to my house to give me comfort. My friends and family have always been there for me. They would never let me go into a shell.”
Less than two years later, tragedy struck again. Older brother Issac “Kojak” Carelock was shot and killed on March 17, 2014, in Charlotte at the age of 33.
Dixon acknowledged the pain of losing his father and brother in such a short span.
“It’s sad, and it hurts to think about it at times,” he said. “But I’m at a point in life where I can’t really see being depressed by it. I’ve got to make it better for my family. I know there are a lot of people in my family like my mother and my grandma, and I’ve got to be the man of the house at this point. So I just see it as motivation.”
Dixon has a tattoo on his abdomen inscribed with his father’s name, date of death, and a poem. He also writes “LLZ” (“Long Live Zeek”) on his sleeves and tape before every game.
“I’ll do a little prayer and tell him how I appreciate everything that he did,” he said. “Without him and my [late] brother, I wouldn’t be where I am. Just his spirit alone, I know I can do anything, and nothing can really stop me.”
That includes football where — despite setting a high school record for career tackles with more than 600 — Dixon was lightly recruited due to concerns about his height of 6 feet. Even Towson under a previous defensive coaching staff brought a tape measure to size up Dixon.
“It never really bothered me because I knew that whoever got me, I would keep working,” said Dixon, who chose the Tigers over Elon, North Carolina Central and Presbyterian. “I was going to try to do everything I could to outwork whoever overlooked me or whoever was supposedly better than me.”
After relatively quiet years for Towson in 2017 and 2018, Dixon replaced starting middle linebacker Ricky DeBerry after the latter suffered a torn right ACL in the first half of a 2019 season-opening 28-21 win at The Citadel on Aug. 31. He finished the season tied for the team lead in sacks with 4 1/2, ranked third in tackles with 77 and tackles for loss with nine, and added two forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles.
Towson defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach Eric Daniels said Dixon’s size does not bother him.
“I know that every time he takes the field, he’s not a guy that I ever have to question his effort,” he said. “He goes out there every day, and I don’t think it matters where he’s at. I think he’s been a great guy for the Tiger family. I’m very excited to see what he does this season.”
Dixon was recognized by the Colonial Athletic Association on July 27 as a preseason honorable mention. The redshirt senior was barely moved.
“I’m not here just for accolades in the preseason,” he said. “I want accolades after the season. And it’s nice to have it, but at the same time, it’s an honorable mention. So I felt kind of disrespected. So I feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder.”
Springs said he, his mother and other family members have attended Towson games both at Johnny Unitas Stadium and elsewhere. Springs, who said even his co-workers at a food products supplier near Charlotte follow Dixon’s accomplishments, called himself his brother’s “biggest fan.”
“We’re so proud of him because he fights,” Springs said. “He never gave up. He really has impressed a lot of people. It’s just so amazing to see how he has come a long way to where he is now.”
Dixon said he thinks his father and brother would be proud of his resilience. But he vowed to continue his journey.
“I feel like I can still go further,” he said. “I feel like right now, I’m still breaking the surface. At the same time, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy with myself. … I just feel like I’m blessed.”
Sept. 4, 4 p.m.
Audio: 88.9 FM, towsontigers.com